For better or worse, street cred goes a long way. It's why cars like the Porsche 911 GT2 RS and Dodge Challenger SRT Demon are instantly recognizable to enthusiasts. The precedents they set have earned these vehicles coveted spots in automotive history. And when it comes to European performance, the cachet of names like AMG, M, and RS are known quantities, as is the level of capability that comes along with them. But despite being an 84-year-old company that has developed no shortage of fast machines in its time, Jaguar and its SVR badge are relative outliers amongst this lot.
If credibility is what you're after as an automaker, you can snag quite a bit of it with a fast time around the Green Hell. Few metrics are of greater importance to the hardcore sportscar set than lap times around the famed N rburgring Nordschleife. The 12.9-mile circuit that has become the unofficial measure of a sports car's worth in the hearts and minds of gearheads across the globe, and posting eye-catching numbers there has become easier in recent years due to some important changes to the course.
To that end, Jaguar has created the XE SV Project 8. On the surface the formula may seem familiar—take the biggest engine and the smallest chassis you've got and put them together for maximum effect—but the Project 8 is much more than that.
Limited to just 300 hand-built examples globally, the Project 8 is a tour de force of go-fast engineering and a significant re-working of the XE's platform to attain maximum track capability. Jag's efforts have already paid off in that regard, as the Project 8's 7-minute, 21.2-second time around the German road course is 'the fastest ever time by a four door sedan in production-intent specification' according to the company, crushing the former title holder, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, by roughly 11 seconds.
So we know it's highly capable in a track setting, but what's it like to live with in the real world? We grabbed the keys to this winged wonder and headed to the hills to find out.
LETTING THE ENGINEERS RUN WILD
The Project 8 is underpinned by the same D7 platform as the garden-variety XE, but that's where much of its commonality with the standard car ends. There's a lot going on here, but that's what it takes if you want to set a lap record at the N rburgring.
Among the car's body panels, only the roof section and front doors carry over. "It's not a cosmetic exercise," Dave Foster, SVO's product creation manager, explained. "Every vent is doing something. Every surface has been designed to complement the drag and the aero and the lift requirements."
The bulging bodywork covers some serious hardware, too. Motivation for the Project 8 comes from the most aggressive iteration of Jaguar's supercharged 5.0-liter V8 to date, here making 592 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Getting the big mill to fit in the XE's engine bay was no plug-and-play affair, though. Engineers had to move the bulkhead and reorganize the layout under the hood to make room for everything.
Jag's blown V8 is paired up to a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox that sends the power to an all-wheel drive system that's been retuned for more rear bias. The flared fenders house larger wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber measuring 265mm-wide up front and 305 in the rear while big carbon ceramic brakes handle the stopping duties. And on the suspension front, stiffer bushings and re-tuned anti-roll bars are teamed up with height-adjustable, motorsport-spec springs and continuously variable dampers for maximum handling response.
Inside, black Alcantara covers the instrument panel, steering wheel, and door panels to help reduce distracting reflections. North American examples of the Project 8 are outfitted with magnesium-framed performance seats and standard belts up front, while cars sold in the rest of the world are equipped with carbon fiber seats and four-point harnesses.
It all adds up to a seriously formidable, purpose-driven package the likes of which are rarely seen on production-spec sports cars, let alone sedans.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
"Whoever is tuning Jaguar's exhausts needs a raise," I proclaim to myself after my first snappy upshift at wide-open throttle. The Project 8's active, titanium-piped system provides a giggle-inducing soundtrack with no shortage of snaps, crackles, and pops. If the flamboyant bodywork doesn't get your attention, the roar this car makes definitely will.
The supercharged five-liter has already proven to be a gem in the F-Type SVR, and with the tweaks made for Project 8 duty, the mill backs up the promises made by its raucous song with some serious haste. Jaguar says it'll get the 3,850-pound car to 60 mph from a standstill in 3.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of 200, and with that amount of all-wheel drive grip on tap, I see no reason to doubt the real-world feasibility of those claims.
On the road it's immediately clear that Jaguar has tuned the Project 8 to be a track car first and foremost. Concessions for road manners are made begrudgingly, as evidenced by its spring rates. It's honestly hard to tell the difference between Comfort, Dynamic and Track damper settings—in most situations they all result in a pretty stiff ride, both on public streets and out in the San Gabriel Mountains, where the pavement surface is rarely as well-sorted as the kind of tarmac you'd find on a proper road course. While the lack of compliance can be jarring at low speeds, the suspension starts to find its rhythm when the pace increases, steadfastly resisting body roll, dive and squat with minimal detriment to overall stability.
While carbon ceramic brakes are notoriously noisy and often grabby at the top of the pedal, we experienced neither with the Project 8. The system provides ample, fade-free stopping power on command, even after extended canyon sessions. Combined with a pedal that's surprisingly easy to modulate and carries a generally well-mannered behavior around town, it adds up to a track-spec brake package that other manufacturers would be wise to take note of.
Where the compromises do exist, they often only serve to create a mixed message. For instance, I couldn't help but wonder what those carbon fiber buckets would be like out in the hills. While the seats outfitted to this tester look great and have reasonably good side bolstering, they lack thigh support and aren't particularly forgiving on longer drives. If I'm going to give up comfort for the sake of performance, I'd prefer to have a seat designed for the track in a car that's designed for the track.
In that same vein, it's also odd to find options like a panoramic glass roof and premium audio in a machine where so much effort was made to reduce weight through the use of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials. But therein lies the dichotomy at work in the Project 8—for as potent as it is, Jaguar still made an effort to maintain some sense of civility.
Few would argue that developing the Project 8 was about creating the ultimate daily driver or the ultimate track car, though. What Jaguar created was something entirely different, and the Project 8's $190,000 price tag seems less outlandish when viewed not as an answer to the Alfa, or even a hardcore, limited-run model like a BMW M4 GTS. The Project 8 is a statement of purpose, and the niche appeal only adds to its collectability.
Perhaps more importantly, it also gave Jaguar a chance to sort out some important development legwork, like how to fit JLR's supercharged V8 in an XE (we're still holding out a glimmer of hope for a proper M3 fighter), while also giving the performance division some serious bragging rights. And even if nothing more comes of the XE's performance lineup as a result of the Project 8, just the fact that Jaguar had the gall to create such a rowdy machine is cause for celebration.